THE people of Liverpool will stand together for the common good after the terrorist attack on Remembrance Sunday, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, has said.
Emad Al Swealmeen, aged 32, a refugee from the Middle East, died when his home-made bomb exploded in the back of a taxi parked outside of Liverpool Women’s Hospital around 11 a.m. The driver was injured and taken to hospital. Four men arrested under the Terrorism Act on Monday have since been released without charge. No motive has yet been revealed for the incident.
It later emerged that Al Swealmeen, also known as Enzo Almeni, converted to Christianity and was confirmed in Liverpool Cathedral in 2017. A picture has been released of Al Swealmeen smiling beside an assistant bishop, the Rt Revd Cyril Ashton, after the confirmation service.
“It is a testing time for all of us,” Bishop Bayes told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday. “Anxiety levels are going to rise in many communities, but we have tried over many years to build relationships between the different faiths, and it is on the platform of those relationships that we are going to have to stand now — and we do.”
He continued: “As the facts emerge, the community will stand together and do what we can to make the most of our love and our relationships, which are not going to be shaken by this.”
Bishop Bayes said of the photo: “It could have been me or any other of my colleagues. . . Confirmations are happy occasions, and you don’t think that this kind of awful future might lie in store. We pray for everybody that we confirm and welcome, and one of the things we pray for them is that they will grow up in holiness and wisdom. Sadly, in this man’s case that does not seem to have happened.”
He expressed sympathy for the Christian couple, Malcolm and Elizabeth Hitchcott, who had taken in Al Swealmeen after his bid for asylum was rejected in 2014.
“I have no doubt that they are numbed,” Bishop Bayes said, “and so are many people of all the different faiths who try to reach out in the name of the common good to make themselves available for love. When that is taken advantage of, or when things happen that subsequently you can’t understand, that does shake you. I hope that the Hitchcotts — the same as anybody else from any faith or from no faith — will be encouraged to be there for people.”
Mr Hitchcott, a former British Army soldier, described Al Swealmeen as a “lovely man” who had lived at his home for eight months. “It’s almost too impossible to believe,” he told the Daily Mail. “There was nothing to suggest he could go on to become radicalised.”
Al Swealmeen first attended Liverpool Cathedral in August 2015, and took an Alpha course there. Mr Hitchcott explained: “That enabled him to come to an informed decision, and he changed from Islam to Christianity and was confirmed as a Christian by at least March 2017, just before he came to live with us. He was destitute at that time, and we took him in.”
The security services have yet to determine whether the suspect had intended to target the hospital or the Remembrance Day service being held about a mile away at the cathedral.
The Dean of Liverpool, Dr Sue Jones, said that she had mistaken the sound of the explosion for a ceremonial gun signalling the start of the two-minutes’ silence. She told Radio 4’s PM programme on Monday: “I thought we must be a bit late with ours. The response here has been one of shock. Someone said to me: ‘This doesn’t happen in Liverpool,’ and I agree. Liverpool is a very friendly city. It is an inclusive welcoming city, humorous and vibrant. It is a shame that this has happened.”
She continued: “We won’t let this influence how we behave — apart from sticking together as a community. We are a resilient people, and we will stand together and not accept behaviour like this. Hate crimes and all of that are not welcome in this city — or in this country. We need to learn to live together, side by side, respecting each other.
“There will be a huge amount of speculation in social media, but we tell our staff we don’t know the full story, and we continue to live and work with each other. It won’t divide us. We need to be vigilant, but we need not to give in to it. Hate can’t win over people’s kindness and the welcoming nature of Liverpool city.”
Other faith and community leaders in Liverpool have condemned the terror incident. The Mayor, Joanne Anderson, described the events as “tragic”, and urged people to “remain calm and allow the police to do their job.”
The Liverpool Mosque and Islamic Institute issued a joint statement: “The car explosion at Liverpool Women’s Hospital has shocked us all. This is a cowardly and heinous attack which we condemn in the strongest possible terms. . . We pray for all our communities, and appeal for calm and vigilance at this time.”